Masthead CMC Magazine October 1, 1995 / Page 8


Is State Government Ready For The Web?

by Amelia DeLoach (

ALBANY, NEW YORK--MCI's exhibition was one of a handful of displays in an overflow corridor of the exhibition-packed Government Technology Conference '95. In front of the exhibit, boxes featured the bright yellow words: "Can I get up and running on the Internet and not be a Rocket Scientist?"

It was clear to see that this was a conference for novices in spite of the fact that top executives from Silicon Graphics and Microsoft served as keynote speakers.

While Internet novices were the target for this conference, businesses hoping to profit from the Internet didn't attempt to intimidate. Instead they were more than willing to show government workers the "way" to the "Information Super Highway" by giving a look at what the Web can do. But how would the people who run the every-day functions of the state government's business react and what would they think of the Web. After all, a large number of them had never seen the Web, let alone done a Net search on a medium that could affect their jobs. Would it be intimidating? Would it seem frivolous? Or, would they see it as a useful tool?

The answer to this came about very quickly in a round-about way in a pavilion turned computer-filled theater. Complete with a wide-screen in front of the room that showed the site the presenter was discussing, this room was filled with Netscape Navigator equipped computers with online access. It was also packed to its capacity of about 20 computers and the attendant at the entrance told those who did not get a seat to come back an hour later for the next session. Welcome to the Internet Test Drive where users not familiar with the Web could sit and have a Digital Equipment Corp. employee demystify the medium by showing them the fundamentals of how to move from link to link, use the stop button on the Netscape Navigator, review source code, do word searches, and read HTML mark-up tags.

Some users seemed to catch on more quickly than others. While some intently followed the lead of the presenter, who gave a large amount of new information to his audience in a clear fashion, others seemed to intuitively understand how to use the interface. Well within twenty minutes of the start of the presentation, a gentleman from the Higher Education Services Corp., who admitted that he had never done a Web search before this day, had already found and was exploring the Playboy site. (We can assume it was to see how fast students might be able to discover it.) In the mean time, an employee with the Department of Taxation and Finance was trying to keep up with the tame government sites the presenter was pointing out. He admitted that the Web might make a good information tool for this office, but he couldn't envision it putting up a Web site since they deal with secure data. "We're big brother," he said in off- handed irreverence. He later strayed away from the site being shown by the presenter to find the CIA site. In short, if you offer access to the Web, people will find how it suits their interests and needs.

After an hour-long session in the "Internet Test Drive" pavilion with well over twenty new Net users, one stepped outside to find a line fifty feet or longer of people waiting to get into the next session. Alas, as with the Web, "Build it, and they will come."

If any question remained, it was what to build. Michael J. Nevins, Director of State Technologies, Inc. provided some answers. He pointed out different sites that were using the Web to promote job openings, lotto, press releases, training courses, gaming information, parking guidelines, and disseminate standardized forms and requests for proposals (RFPs). Nevins stressed to the auditorium filled with both upper and lower-level state employees that Web sites can also contain basic information -- such as the Social Security office listing proper documentation people need to bring to sign up for social security-- that people often call about, thus cutting down on the number of phone calls. "I think this demonstrates why people are going to this (medium) very quickly and very completely," Nevins said.

A regulatory reform officer with the Office of General Services, which oversees the operations of the state's government facilities, noted that while her office did not need to disseminate a large amount of information to a broad audience, a Web site with automated forms might cut down on mailing and processing expenses. (An important thing in cash-strapped New York state.) "I think there are a lot of uses ... but it's a question of access," she said, pointing out that only one computer in her office has online access.

But does she think her office will widely utilize the Web in the near future? That's uncertain. Their immediate computer need is additional memory in the office PCs to accommodate Windows '95. [CMC TOC]

Amelia DeLoach is Link Editor and sometimes reporter for the Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine. Her most frequent contact with governments is prompted by the need to pay and protest parking tickets.

Copyright © 1995 by Amelia DeLoach. All Rights Reserved.

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